The metamorphoses of the Jumblatt bloc
Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/07/2011
A couple of weeks ago, Walid Jumblatt announced the dismantling of the “Democratic Gathering”, a parliamentary bloc that he’s been heading for over a decade. He also revealed the creation of a new parliamentary bloc called the “National Struggle” grouping the 7 MPs belonging to the Democratic Gathering who nominated Nagib Miqati to the premiership: Walid Jumblatt, Ghazi Aridi, Akram Chehayeb, Wael Bou Faour, Alaeddine Terro, Nehme Tohme and Elie Aoun. Three of these MPs were later to become minister in the Second Miqati government: Wael Bou Faour (minister of Social Affairs), Ghazi Aridi (minister of Public Works) and Alaeddine Terro (minister of the Displaced). Although his parliamentary bloc shrank by more than a third, Walid Jumblatt not only secured the same number of seats in the new government, but also received an extra portfolio (while retaining the two portfolios he had). In fact, his bloc represent today a little more than 5% of the Parliament, but it also makes up 10% of the ruling coalition’s parliamentary weight. So being awarded 10% of the council of ministers (3 out of 30 ministers) is arithmetically pretty fair.
Looking into Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc can actually tell us a lot about lebanese politics and how formal and non-formal politics interplay.
Territories: political conversion of military conquests
At the beginning of the millennium, Walid Jumblat’s parliamentarians hailed from four administrative districts: Baabda, Aley, the Chouf (Shuf) and Beirut. The first three districts roughly constitute the territory that Jumblat’s militia had militarily conquered in the 1983 in Southern Mount-Lebanon. As for Beirut, Jumblat had actually conquered part of it but lost that territory in 1985 during the “flag war” (حرب العلم). The fact that his “electoral territory” matched the territories he had conquered militarily in the 1980s invites us to look into the political dynamics that converted military conquest to political gain. Let’s look into the electoral process. Up to 2005, the whole electoral process was managed by the Syrian occupation forces. First, they set the formal rules by adapting the electoral law to their needs. This meant systematic gerrymandering to favour their local allies. Moreover, they also intervened in the process through pressure on candidates, on political alliances and through various techniques of electoral fraud (meddling with voter registration, intimidation at polls, improper vote counting, and pressure on judges surveying the elections). In other words, the Syrian occupation forces set the rules of the electoral game through formal and non-formal methods. Much has been said about the way they interfered through formal methods, that is legal rules. Less has been written about the informal rules that they had set: the way they encouraged “traditional” families and “traditional dynamics” in some regions, and fought against them in others… the way they allowed some allies to dominate one constituency, and refused them access to other regions…
In Jumblat’s case, the Syrian allowed him to keep the territory he had conquered during the “war of the mountain” (حرب الجبل), but refused him any expansion in the historical heartland of the Druze, Wadi al-Taym (divided into two constituencies, Rashaya and Hasbaya in which the Druze are a minority but are awarded two MPs). They allowed him to control all public services given to that region (water, education, electricity, permits), gave him full control on the returnees process through which he managed the return of the christian population that he had expelled, allotted him most of the Christian MPs in “his” constituency but forcing him to “share” it with one rival within his community, one that he had a say in choosing, a cousin of his Talal Arslan.
If we look into the makeup of his bloc, we notice that some members are actually part of other political parties or forces: Bassem Sabaa, Antoine Andraos and Mohammad Hajjar are actually part of the Future Movement network, and Antoine Ghanem is a member of the Kataeb Party. This actually shows how MPs are negoticated between communal leaders. It also shows the importance of symbolics. By keeping these MPs in his bloc, Jumblatt reinforces symbolically the territorial dimension of his power. It also shows that “size matters” in parliament, not for voting purposes, but as a reflection of the importance of the leader, his political weight.
As for the communal demographics, we notice that his bloc in 2000 was in majority Christian. Walid Jumblatt actually benefitted one one hand from three features of our electoral law: “communal representation” that allots specific seats to specific communities, Christian MP distribution in constituencies with a Muslim majority, and voter registration according to “origin” instead of residency. And on the other hand, he benefitted from the Syrian occupation forces policy of silencing the Christian opposition, which translated into supporting local christian patrons in Christian constituencies, and distributing Christian MPs between its allied Muslim patrons in mixed constituencies.
In 2005, the Syrian regime were no longer here to enforce its informal rules. So we find Walid Jumblatt conquering a new constituency, Western Beqaa-Rashaya, not militarily but electorally, through his alliance with the Future Movement, who also benefited from Syria’s withdrawal by expanding to new constituencies through communal hyper-mobilisation. This alliances awarded him two new seats, one Druze and one Christian, in exchange for the Christian seats he had to cede to his Christian allies, the Kataeb party and the Lebanese Forces.
In 2009, Walid Jumblatt looses for the first time a constituency, that of Baabda due to changes in the electoral law and the collapse of the Quadripartite alliance. He owes three other constituencies to his alliances with the Future Movement. In Beirut, the communal configuration and the dominance of the Future Movement over the Sunni community is so important that it leaves Walid Jumblatt with very little weight in determining the fate in these elections. As for the Chouf (Registered voters in 2009: 68 561 various Christians, 58 057 Druze, 51 417 Sunni) and Western-Beqaa (Registered voters: 57 751 Sunni, 17 949 Druze, 16 997 Shiite, 29 789 various Christians), neither party would have made it without the support of the other, as the electoral results have shown.
What future for this shrinking and fragile bloc?
The “National Struggle” bloc is by far the most fragile bloc in parliament. As we have see in the two figures, in the past 7 years, it lost over half of its MPs, shrinking from 16 to 7. Moreover, 2 out of its 7 MPs owe their election to the Future Movement, and any opposition from the Future Movement would endanger 4 other seats, including that of Walid Jumblatt (that an alliance with Aoun’s FPM could in that case save).
Now let’s look into Walid Jumblatt’s strong points. He is the undisputed communal leader of the Druze Community. The other two contenders, Talal Arslan and Wi’am Wahab, are no serious rivals. He controls his community’s communal institutions. He has established strong relations with Syrian and Israeli Druze, making him an international communal leader. He also inherited his father’s international network, that he has nurtured even though he has no longer any leftist credential. Walid Jumblatt heads a patronage network that enjoys complete authority on all public services in “his” districts (the ones he had conquered militarily back in the 1980s, I wonder if he has been working on extending them in the Wady al-Taym districts), and he has dominated the Druze employment in the Public Service for over 30 years. So basically, it is in the interest of a Druze voter to vote for Walid Jumblatt’s bloc, because this choice will offer him the greatest advantages. Since his ethnic cleansing of southern Mount Lebanon, he he has positioned himself as the sole defender of Druze interests. Through his leadership, he has given the community a sense of autonomy and security. Because of the absence of a prominent Druze figure within the state institutions, Walid Jumblatt somewhat embodies druze interests.
Moreover, with the current hyper-mobilisation of the Sunni and the Shiite communities, and the communal expansion of both communities into Druze areas, the new communal fears of Druze are not directed toward Christians like they were for the past two centuries, but towards the two major Muslim communities. These elements reinforce Druze communal mobilisation, and the backing of Walid Jumblatt even if his political base disagrees with his political positioning.
So basically, Walid Jumblatt has nothing to fear from within his community. Like many other communal patrons, he has managed to neutralise the institutional norms meant to encourage internal competition within each community. However, his support of the Miqati government is unsustainable. In two years, he will be facing elections and he has very little chances of keeping his seats or constituencies without the support of the Future Movement. This is where the division of his former parliamentary bloc might come in handy. Reuniting the two parts will allow him to reclaim his place as an ally of the Future Movement while maintaining his ties with at least one Shiite party.